FDA’s tepid response to intentional addition of allergens to foods fails consumers

Sesame ingredient

Tijana Drndarski - unsplash.com.

Statement of CSPI Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher

The Food and Drug Administration offered a tepid response today in the face of growing calls for the agency to curtail the dangerous industry practice of adding allergens to foods. This practice significantly undermines allergen protections for consumers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the agency in January to prohibit companies from adding sesame and other major allergens as a way to avoid the careful cleaning and processing steps needed to prevent cross-contamination. CSPI argues that the practice, which elevates risks for consumers, violates federal requirements to mitigate allergen risks. 

In a statement issued today, the agency stated that it is “aware that some manufacturers are intentionally adding sesame to products that previously did not contain sesame and are labeling the products to indicate its presence,” and that “this practice may make it more difficult for sesame-allergic consumers to find foods that are safe for them to consume-an outcome that the FDA does not support.” But the agency says no more than that. 

A lukewarm statement like this is simply not adequate. Companies are playing games with the rules designed to protect us, and it’s causing harm. The very least the agency could do is warn that this practice raises risks for consumers, and actively oppose it. In the absence of firmer steps from the agency or Congress, industry will interpret this statement as a green light for further additions of sesame to the food supply, simultaneously reducing consumer choice and increase the risk of serious allergic reactions. Industry will continue to decide that it’s cheaper and easier to add major allergens to foods, rather than actually prevent contamination risks.